"Mom, Dad, I'm pregnant."
Those words whispered by our daughter on a spring evening in 1998 propelled our family on a path of emotional turmoil, hurt and confusion. We never expected to travel here. Not with her. Not at this point in our family's life. It wasn't supposed to be this way!
Facing the challenges of an unplanned pregnancy is difficult for any family. For pastoral families, those challenges take on a broader and deeper dimension because of who they are. What are some of the things pastors and their spouses need to know as they face the reality of their child's pregnancy?
1. Pastoral families need to know that they will experience many confusing feelings from failure to guilt to anger and loss.
In the days following the numbing words, the initial shock wore off. What followed were innumerable painful emotions. When Kristy told us her news, we struggled in those early days navigating through our own emotions.
We knew we had the support of our church family. They had expressed that. However, facing them each week in ministry capacities proved increasingly difficult. My husband, David, found stepping into the pulpit each Sunday even more emotionally demanding than he expected it to be. He felt that he had lost his credibility.
"It was very difficult to continue to function in those early days. It was incredibly challenging to face the congregation each week. How could I talk to other families about their spiritual and emotional issues when we were facing such a mountain of concerns within our own family? How could I help them when such deep hurt was shackled to me?"
Not only did we feel that we had failed as parents, but also we had to confront our own feelings of anger.
Early on, we were angry. No one on the outside saw it. I don't know really how much of it our daughter actually saw. We were angry at her choices. We were angry at the young man who simply walked away. We were angry at being thrown into a situation so out of our control. However, we didn't stay in anger long, but lingered somewhere else much longer. That somewhere was loss.
I think at the heart of a family crisis of this nature is the sense of loss and the accompanying grief that follows. It was for us. One of our bedrooms serves as the memory wall for generations of family photos. When I would walk into that room and glance at those happy carefree smiling pictures of a three-year-old, ten-year-old, thirteen-year-old, overwhelming emotions of loss and sadness rose up within me.
Occasionally, I would just sit down on the edge of the bed and cry — grieving the losses we had experienced — loss of the dreams of what "should" have been.
Our grieving was also for Kristy — for the losses she faced and for struggles she was currently living through and would in the future. Amidst one's own hurt, anger and pain, you can't help but feel fear and desperation for the child to whom you've given your heart and life.
Over time, we learned that we had to mourn those things that were lost and release them so that new and beautiful things could take root.
2. Pastoral families need to know that their response and support is critical to future decisions their daughter or son may make.
Parents often fail to realize the important role they play. Initially, there is anger and disappointment. But after that, there is a message that emerges that will have long term consequences.
One father shared with me that his anger almost blinded him to his daughter's needs. "She was frightened and alone. Thankfully, I woke up to that and realized that she needed us in a way that she had not before. It wasn't about us and our feelings or our reputation, but it was about Amy and the baby to come. It was important for her to know that we still loved her. We told her that we wanted her to come home and we would work through this together. Had we not done that, I shutter at the thought of what Amy's decision would have been about the pregnancy."
Often forgotten in the unplanned pregnancy equation is the role of the young man and his family. Young men facing this event desperately need support as well. Kevin's dad, a senior pastor at a large midwestern church, said, "As the reality set in for us, we realized just how much our son needed us to walk this with him — not in anger, but with understanding. I learned that my son needed me to model what a godly and mature response looked like, and God enabled me to do that."
3. Pastoral families need to know that they don't need to walk alone. They need support and counsel, too.
For families in crisis who also serve in leadership roles, finding a trusted, listening ear feels out of reach. We felt, as do many other pastoral families in crisis, that we really couldn't or shouldn't talk to anyone in the church. This perception brought a deep sense of being very, very alone. Fears of betrayal and concerns of a judgmental response almost blocked that source of support. However, as I learned over time, that wasn't God's plan.
God had always intended my support to be from friends who were right there in front of me. Families in the church encircled us — those who had been where we were. What I had feared — judgment and betrayal — never materialized.
An amazing comment from a church friend brought hope: "When you see your grandchild for the very first time, you will experience a whole new level of love." From that, hope did come — for all of us.
4. Pastoral families need to know that they may experience the ultimate test of their core beliefs.
The message of the pro-life movement is a core belief for many Christian families. However, when faced with this crisis, some Christian families abandon the principle to take care of the problem. Some families struggle as the core values for which they previously stood clash with the current reality of their lives. A grim reality is that over 225,000 Christian girls a year experience an abortion. Some of them are pastors' daughters. How could this be?
What a daughter's unplanned pregnancy feels like to parents in the initial stages is stated in one word — threat. The pastor's ministry and reputation are threatened. The pastor's creditability as a parent is threatened. The pastor's plans for both his daughter's future and their own are threatened. Often, even in the minds of parents whose core values scream pro-life, abortion offers a way to "get rid of the threat." They can flee reality and "no one would know." Yet, as a pastor and his family encounter this unplanned, hurtful event, there is one more thing they need to know.
5. Pastoral families need to know that they have the gift of time.
Decisions don't have to be made today. Immediate actions don't need to be taken. When a pastor and his wife stand on principle — choose life and do the right thing — answers will come. Give God time. He will make a way.
Ever feel like you need to wear a mask to cover up who you are? Are you concerned that, if people knew who you really are and how you really felt, they wouldn't understand?
One minister, two jobs and the family that's at the top of the list. The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide.
"You should see the church they attend," Lucille said, armed with bulletin and newsletter. Creases formed across my brow as celebration gave way to comparisons a trap that had sprung too many times.